Smartphones make me feel dumb.
March 8, 2011 6:57 PM   Subscribe

So I want a new smartphone and I'm overwhelmed by the options. Looking for resources that will describe benefits, compare phones, explain details like the various processors, screen types, etc.

What are the go-to sites for explanations/comparisons/etc? Whose opinion do you trust on these matters? Where can I find resources to help clarify what it is I'm looking at? Who will explain to me the difference between a Snapdragon and a TI OMAP 3630?

Verizon customer, considering the Droid series (X, Pro, Incredible, etc).
posted by radiosilents to Technology (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I really like the reviews and articles on cnet.
posted by hansbrough at 7:03 PM on March 8, 2011

Personally, I would not buy a smartphone based on a review or feature comparison. You need to get one in your hands and play with it for a while -- do all the things that you'd want to do on a smart phone (send an email, take a picture, watch a youtube video, get directions, download angry birds, listen to an mp3, etc). There are so many intangibles that can determine whether a phone is for you, like whether you can stand the keyboard or touchscreen typing.. You're going to be spending a lot of time with your new baby, and you want to make sure it's one you love.
posted by empath at 7:19 PM on March 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

FWIW, processor Ghz, RAM, and all that stuff don't matter so much on devices like smart phones. For instance, if you compared the tech specs of many Android phones to the iPhone, you'd think they would run circles around the iPhone but they don't. The user experience matters more, the software matters more... it's about picking the phone that enables you to do what you want to do, not picking something that works poorly with a faster processor or whatever.

And especially with Android phones you want to pick one that isn't going to be abandoned by the manufacturer as far as bug fixes and software updates go (this has happened with several phones so far, some even just a couple months after they were released... and it seems to be happening with the Android tablets, too... see the Motorola Xoom, where it doesn't even have features that it touts on the box! (like Flash support and 4G)... And the new ViewPad 10 that runs... Android 1.6! What a joke).
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 7:21 PM on March 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

In the droid series, go by the look and feel. The X is big, the Pro has the keyboard, the 2/2 global has the physical keyboard. Pick the one you like. The hardware specs don't matter nearly as much as the physical interface.

Also, ditto what buckaroo said.

For support, HTC wins out over other manufacturers for continued support and timely OS updates.
posted by devbrain at 7:26 PM on March 8, 2011

Droid Bionic comes out around june, its like the atrix but on verizon LTE. You'd have to wait. Verizons supposed to come out with 4 new android phones. I don't recommend LG revolution, thats a Android phone that comes out in next few weeks, not dual core, bad battery. All Droids that are out right now are pretty bad, it be worth it to wait especially because verizon just change there upgrade deal so you can only get a new phone every two years. I have the first gen droid, ive had it for a year and a half, its slow as molasses. It would be worth it to wait for the new Dual Core, 4g, 720 camera, high resolution screened phone. Droid Bionic
posted by andykapahala at 7:31 PM on March 8, 2011

I wouldn't recommend reading reviews online because they only confused me more. There will be a billion opinions on every phone, and as many good reviews as there are "This is a total POS, I will never buy one again" reviews, and it only made me more frustrated/confused/annoyed. I ended up just going into the store and looking at the phone selection there and yes, seeing how it worked in my hands and stuff like that.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:49 PM on March 8, 2011

Correction: Not LG revolution, HTC thunderbolt is the bad one that comes out soon. You do not want!
posted by andykapahala at 7:54 PM on March 8, 2011

When I went into the Verizon stores, they didn't have working models of anything, so you guys are lucky. They just had those weird, fake "this is what it looks like, so you can hold it, but no buttons work and there is nothing inside but a block of plastic" phones. I have no idea how I would have gone about trying out all of the phones I was interested in.

I did go some by cnet specs, myself, along with a lot of reading online reviews from owners on various sites, and am pretty happy with the HTC Incredible I got a few months ago. The Droid X had very similar specs, but I decided I didn't need the huge screen. I got the 2.2 update pretty quickly, and the phone has no really obvious bugs. Probably the worst thing that I can say about it is that there are not many hardware extras for it, like external USB/Bluetooth keyboard or docking station.

I know you didn't ask for a review of one specific phone, but from reading previous comments, I thought you might get the idea all of the Droid phones were horrible, when that is not the case. I messed with some of the very early Droid phones, and this is amazingly better. (In fact, for many things, it's about as good as my old laptop.) Given the choice of getting it again vs getting any other phone, I'd probably stick with the Incredible (for now).

I am not a phone guru, but specs/reviewed features I looked at were: processor speed, RAM, internal memory, SD memory capability, camera quality, battery life, what OS it ran/was upgradeable to (should have 2.2 Froyo at the very least), and screen. I used reviews mostly to get a feel for what seemed to be common problems or complaints on a specific phone and ignored the randoms who bitched about weird settings I'd never heard of or just gave low ratings and then didn't explain.
posted by wending my way at 8:10 PM on March 8, 2011

It really depends what you want to do with your smartphone and what you are used to.
I have tried the Android (Galaxy S, G1) the IPhone (3g) ,and the Blackberry (storm, tour).

I love the music features and the slick user interface of the iPhone, and all the amazing
applications that are out there and its web browser. I dont so much like it as a phone (for voice calls and texting).

I think the Android os is going to be really good (My experience was with 2.2 which is already outdated), but it lacks some spit and polish and some usability. However its a great for playing
movies, browsing the web, and synching with your google account.

Personally after my tour de force of alternatives I ended right back up where I started with a
blackberry tour. Its web browser sucks, it doesnt have a lot of shiny apps, I think mine is pretty
darn slow, and its UI is ugly and looks like something from the 80s.

However as device to talk, text, and read and send email I find it unrivaled. It has a lot of usability features aimed at being good at texting and email.. It sync well with Exchange, and
pretty good with Google. It also has the benefit on Verizon of being a "global phone"
It functions as a CDMA phone in the US and as a gsm phone where that is required.
That is not very novel, most GSM phones can roam globally now, but what is really sweet
for the Blackberry is that for an extra $20 or so a month, you will get your email and
can respond to it while travelling.

So far in the prices from Verizon for the Droid Pro which is also global, you seem to be paying for data usage, which will soon add up fi you like me get a lot of email and need to respond to them.

I kinda wish blackberry would update their platform (which they have done on ATT Torch), I tried the Storm and it was a piece of junk. AT least on the Storm in my opinion Blackberry has not grasped a touch based user interface yet. I am very curious about the new Tablet they are putting out. Perhaps it will prove that Blackberry can innovate beyond their tried and true text based user interface.

I think for most people who are not already blackberry addicts, the lack of shiny interface puts people off, and people do expect their smartphones to do a lot more than email & txt these days.
posted by digividal at 9:16 PM on March 8, 2011

FWIW: I just got an Android OS Samsung from VirginMobileUSA ($25/m) $199 for the phone. It has a physical keyboard and a touchscreen. I like it, nice phone, fact and very responsive.
posted by fifilaru at 11:11 PM on March 8, 2011

Consumer Reports does phones every year. It's not TONS of details on every phone, but it does help you compare specs and get an idea.

My experience of looking at the Verizon phones -- I just got the HTC Incredible in January -- was that they were all pretty overpowered for what I wanted to do, except maybe the LG Ally (which has a physical keyboard but the specs are much lower than the other phones, and the screen smaller). However, my friends with the Ally still run all the apps and things, just don't have as much storage space and they have the smaller screen.

I don't really stream video other than short youtube clips (and I don't store my music library on my phone), but it's hard to imagine how much more of a power user I'd have to be before I'd start bumping up against the processing limits of my phone, let alone the generous storage space (but, again, don't store music library on phone -- just tons of photos and some app data). Even very large apps run fine. So I'm hopeful all this excess power means I'll be able to put off upgrading for quite a while. :)

(I also thought the Droid X was a lot lot bigger for not much gain in user functionality and would be annoying to stash in a pocket or purse; there was also a HUGE price premium on the Motorola phones vs. the HTC or LG phones when we shopped, but that changes all the time based on incentives ... we put off the decision for a week because our toddler got sick and when we checked again, the HTC Incredibles actually were FREE for existing users with the upgrade credit who bought online. Sold! ... Also, we shopped in the Verizon store so we could try out the phones, but definitely compare the deals and prices available online.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:35 AM on March 9, 2011

Instead of looking at the frankly overwhelming specifications, think about your requirements. My deciding factors were...

Could I get on with the OS?
Could I see the screen in sunshine?
Would the battery last at least a day?
How big was the screen?
Was it fast enough to do the various things I'd like to do such as watch movies and browse the web?
How well does it do multi-tasking?
Is the GPS any good?
How well can it sync my stuff with the web?
How well does it perform just as a phone?
What Apps are available?

I got this information by browsing various forums, usually product specific like xda-developers,,
Asking in a mixed environment just gets you into fanboy territory, whereas in the product specific forums you get to hear the 'My battery only lasts 5 hours', 'GPS doesn't work' and 'the screen smashes at the slightest drop'. You see how many other people are experiencing similar issues and get a feel for the quality of device.
Also as has been said before: Go to the shops! Especially for choosing what size device to get.

In terms of who you trust? Hmmm...No-one. again, there seems to be some primitive tribal defense and promotion of whichever smartphone somebody has finally decided to align themselves to.
A shame but it's best to know these things.

Good Luck!
posted by razzman at 6:39 AM on March 9, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had good luck with this Cell Phone Finder

You will need to enter your zip to actually see the comparison part of it. I'm in no way advocating purchasing through them because it was good for doing side by side comparison of features.

For the record I also have Verizon and ended up going with the Droid 2 Global.
posted by dgeiser13 at 8:06 AM on May 10, 2011

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